Ontario budget fails to address ‘quality issues’

Provincial budget sets aside $1.5B for education and training; offers textbook and technology grants

AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell says the distance grant doesn’t do enough to promote accessibility.
AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell says the distance grant doesn’t do enough to promote accessibility.
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Journal File Photo
Principal Karen Hitchcock (left) says the Liberals’ budget doesn’t address the need to hire more faculty.
Principal Karen Hitchcock (left) says the Liberals’ budget doesn’t address the need to hire more faculty.
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The provincial budget has good things for Queen’s but leaves out a vital factor, said Principal Karen Hitchcock.

“There’s no addressing the quality issues in the system, meaning ability to hire faculty, reduce student-faculty ratio,” she said. “There’s no operating monies that have been put into this budget and while we’re grateful, obviously, to the government for what they have done, the prime concern is that we are able to hire more faculty.”

The Liberals’ fifth budget, released Tuesday, sets aside $1.5 billion to post-secondary education and training over three years.

It includes a textbook and technology grant for all full-time students, a distance grant to help students in remote or rural areas with transportation costs, a strategy to attract international students, a program facilitating international work experience for Ontario students and $970 million over three years towards capital projects and infrastructure.

Hitchcock said the capital project funding is divided up among all post-secondary institutions in the province. She thinks Queen’s will get about $12 million a year but the University hasn’t decided how to spend it.

“We’d be talking with the deans and they with their faculties so that we can prioritize the most important projects on the campus,” she said.

But Ontario still has the lowest per-student funding of all Canadian provinces and that has to change, Hitchcock said.

AMS Vice-President (University Affairs) Julia Mitchell said the distance grant will help students coming to Queen’s from far away, and the “International Ontario Initiative” and “Global Edge” funds will help Queen’s internationalize.

But the textbook grants don’t do enough to promote accessibility, she told the in an e-mail.

“The grant doesn’t adequately impact access of low-income and underrepresented groups. $300 isn’t a large sum of money relative to the thousands we pay for education each year,” she wrote. “That being said, grants are preferred to tax-credits.”

SGPS Vice-President (External) Jovan Groen said schools like Queen’s are under pressure to expand their graduate programs without the proper resources. He thinks graduate students would have liked to see a budget that allocated money for better infrastructure and more faculty to alleviate that pressure.

“Students, whether undergraduate or graduate, are looking for relief in the cost of their post-secondary education, and what this budget offered was textbook reductions,” he said. “I don’t think that’s what students had in mind, frankly.”

Steve Erwin, spokesperson for Finance Minister Dwight Duncan, said the government’s initiatives make higher education more accessible and a return to the two-year tuition freeze that ended in 2006 isn’t necessary.

“I think what’s important is things like the textbook and technology grant, [which] will help students finance their education. The government has provided more than $480 million in student financial aid through OSAP just in 2007-08,” he said. “We’ve also capped tuition increases, following two years of tuition freezes, an average of five per cent annually. [Tuition rises annually] on average about $100 for about 90 per cent of college students and about $200 for 90 per cent of university students.”

Erwin said the initiatives aim to create a skilled workforce and boost the Ontario economy.

“Our government has taken a very strong position on the need to make sure we have [a] skilled, knowledgeable workforce going into the future,” he said. “The government places a very high emphasis on education. It’s improving access to education, its’ making education more affordable.”

Queen’s economics professor Robin Boadway said the government’s focus on education and human capital is the right thing to do.

“I think the general approach of the provincial government of relying on improving skills and worker quality and human capital, there’s much to be said for it relative to the alternative, which is relying on incentives through the tax system,” he said, adding that it may not have the desired effect.

“The problem the Ontario economy faces is a very long-run and structural problem, brought about largely by the increase in resource prices and the sort of immense draw of labour and so on to the west, to Alberta.

“The fact of the matter is that there is also very little the Ontario government itself can do to counter those issues.”

Post-secondary promises

Textbook and technology grant:

• Available to all full-time students. The grant starts at $150 per student next year and will increase to $225 in the fall of

2009 and $300 in subsequent years.

Distance grant:

• $27 million over three years to assist students from remote or rural areas with transportation.

International Ontario Strategy:

• More than $7 million over three years to encourage international students to study in Ontario.

Global Edge:

• More than $1 million over three years to facilitate Ontario students’ international study and work experience.

Capital projects:

• $970 million over three years for infrastructure development to be shared among all Ontario post-secondary institutions

Anna Mehler Paperny

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